The Joint Committee for Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) announced on Wednesday that its three-year consultation on extending the HPV vaccination programme had found including boys was ‘highly unlikely to be cost-effective’.
The announcement marks the beginning of a six-week consultation period before it makes a final decision on whether to officially recommend whether or not to add boys to the programme.
GPs – who almost unanimously support extending the vaccine – have rallied against the damning verdict, warning it leaves boys, and particularly men who have sex with men (MSM), open to ‘aggressive cancers’ caused by the virus.
HPV Action, a campaign group composed of 47 patient and professional organisations, said the JCVI’s decision was ‘astonishing’ and ‘completely ignored’ advice of public health experts.
It added that it was now considering legal proceedings ‘on the grounds that the decision breaches equality law’.
Dr George Kassianos, the RCGP’s national immunisation lead, said: ‘We are disappointed at today’s announcement as the RCGP has always supported equality in gender with respect to HPV disease prevention in order to protect all our patients.
‘HPV infection is associated with aggressive cancers and other conditions in all patients, regardless of gender. We would, therefore, urge the DH to extend HPV immunisation to boys as a matter of urgency.’
Dr Andrew Green, the GPC’s clinical and prescribing policy lead, warned the decision would have a particularly negative impact on MSM.
He said: ‘I am very disappointed that the opportunity to protect boys had not been taken. There is a significant population of men who have sex with men, and the burden of HPV related disease affects them every bit as much as women.
‘The only way to offer them effective protection is a universal vaccination programme for boys.’
A pilot specifically to vaccinate MSM is in place in England, but this must be actively sought out by patients in certain sexual health clinics. MSM in Scotland can receive the vaccine, but again not as a matter of course.
Peter Baker, HPV Action campaign director, said: ‘It is astonishing that the government’s vaccination advisory committee has ignored advice from patient organisations, doctors treating men with HPV-related cancers, public health experts and those whose lives have been devastated by HPV.
‘The decision not to vaccinate boys is about saving money not public health. HPV Action will continue to make the case for a national vaccination programme that protects men and women equally. There may also be grounds for a legal challenge on the grounds that the decision breaches equality law.’